I spent a very busy night. It was probably the coffee I drank after 3 P.M. I spoke a language Florence didn’t know; likely the same I spoke when I got up from my comatose phase in the hospital. It had to be Hebrew or Russian But where did I learn them? Maybe when I was in my mother’s belly or when I was very young and I will keep the unconscious memory. Will “The Young Orphan, Eric, Number 220666” be from Jewish descent? Slav?
This morning, the third day since I was back from the ER, I was hurting all over. The healthy part of my body was only in pain as soon as I moved. The left elbow should have knocked when I fell because I had the impression I had crushed my bones with pincers. My wife came closer from the bed and kissed me. This kiss meant she understood my disarray and my need to stay alone. She didn’t insist and got upstairs to her office and got down.
“I need to drive boys to their lessons and go to the supermarket. But don’t do any nonsense when I’m not home. I’m not gonna hire a guard!”
She went out. I realized how lucky I was to have married Florence. So discreet but so full of life, she liked to koke and was serious in everything she did. Nothing from anyone she loved escaped her vigilance.
Now the entrance door was closed, I was free to continue my solitary fight. My foe was inertia, the universal gravity which linked the Earth to the Sun and stuck me to this little planet, this floor, the tiles of the corridor. In this situation, my 200lbs didn’t keep the balance easily. I thought about walking, strolling with no effort, doing every daily gesture and how wonderful they were when you understood you didn’t have them anymore. Now my only pleasure to breathe the fresh air of the evening when night fell in my garden will be an enhanced bliss. You really needed a few things to be happy when you had been very close to Death. Looking at a bird flying away, the stars lightening on in the sky, breathing, being conscious of being alive, as many sublime delights!
A glance at the window and I noticed the sky was grey. It was warm, storm was probably coming, one of this late spring storm, full of life and which settled summer in its peaceful length. June and its long days will be soon here and I would especially like to enjoy the morning light in the garden, the clumsy flying of the first young birds leaving their nest! Last year, a be swarm was in the hazel tree. Boys looked at it for hours. An insect ball we didn’t dre to approach. The morning after, bees were gone in their new home. They had chosen our tree to rest during their move. I was dreaming of doing the same thing in the shade, listening to the noise of the insects and the songs of the birds.
Where did I start? I feared at trying to climb the 15-uneven stairs. I learnt to live and measure everything, understand the sense of the least detail. I would never be the same musician, the same painter if I played the viola again and painting following my thought one day.
First, go the toilets. It was my favorite walk, several times a day, days and nights now. When I passed behind the office, I carefully avoided looking at the piano and the easel with the unfinished painting.
I was standing in the corridor. I leaned on the wall and tried to find my balance with no support. Not easy when the dead part of your body pushed you towards the right. I was gonna focus on my attention on the left foot– the one which always knew how to walk and do the moves of the well-educated foot.
I remained a few seconds on balance. I put the right foot – the one which forgot its first joband only weighed at the end of my leg. Catastrophe! It hit the times, excessively pushed and lost its balance. I managed to stay on my feet but I had to make a reflex movement which pulled me a shout off. All my joints cracked. I remained for a moment, my heart was beating so hard. My right shoulder weighed on the wall as if it was conscious the effort was not finished yet.
In front of me, the stairs. With its planks hiding the old, uneven steps made of tiles –an awful imitation of red floor tiles– did I go or not? Hurrying up and maybe causing a new catastrophe. But I did know me: if I didn’t do something, I would call me a coward and spend a lot of time to brew over dark thoughts.
I turned my head. I was inspired and suddenly felt like trying to climb the stairs again. Couldn’t think of anything else. I let on the easel, next to the piano an unfinished work and I couldn’t stand it. I didn’t dare to go to the keys because I was careful, afraid of myself. I knew I was going to be disappointed and I didn’t want to sink into depression whereas the way to go was so long. I’d rather wait, keep working mentally my music and collect my little, daily success to limit the misdeed of a failure. But the painting…
I dragged my slippers on the slippery tiles up to my room. And I went to the easel. My painting box was just next to me, I had to bend to open it. My chair was still in the position I left it last time I used it – turned towards the door because I made it pivot before getting up and going out.
I went to sit; that way I could freely think about painting. But I was unable to do anything automatically and I had to measure the consequences of a reckless move. I was finally like the painter I was before but what did I still know? I could take a new canvas for my first attempts but I preferred keep going with the unfinished one even if I could spoil it. A new way to deny my stroke, to do as if I had never been sick.
I took my brushes with jubilation. I became who I was a week ago. Bit I was a right-handed man before all and this right side didn’t answer my orders. My left hand held the brush out to my right hand which came closer like a crab pincer, fingers opened. But it didn’t stop. It kept moving forwards and jostled its right side. “Let’s begin again” I told. “I need to focus all of my thoughts on this tiny, essential gesture”. The left hand moved back, and this time, stopped before the brush stick. I was not losing hope, I was conscious repetition was the key to reconnect my limbs to the central computer – my brain. So new attempt and this time, my fingers closed on the tiny stick, squeezed so strongly than the wood cracked and broke. My forefinger and my thumb were hurt but I felt no pain. A blood drop dripped on my last finger – where the hand was the most sensible – but the deadliest to me.
I screamed with rage. Now I was unable to hold a simple brush. Should I have died at the hospital instead of giving the sad show of the decline? My closed ones would have cried for some times and finished to concede I was gone. Dying is a natural fact, the accidental disability remained a special situation, still hung to life and still settled in the nothingness.
I I understood well what the therapists and the neuropsychiatrists I met told me, the drive belt from my brain to the muscles and eyes didn’t work at all or just a little. The human body was a machine made for supporting the soul. But this machine could repair by its own even if these possibilities were not used a lot. I had to go and find them deep inside me, tickle them. Nobody could do that for me, not even the greatest specialists of rehability.
My left hand held out another brush. The fingers moved away, closed on the stick with difficulty. But victory: I held it, calmly with no raw force which made break the late one. The blood flawed from my dead, soft forefinger, polished by years of use.
The first step was passed –let’s start the second. I managed – pretty easily – to unscrew the cork of a paint tube and put a little of paint on the palette right in front of me. A beautiful brown green called “green ground” like I loved. And I needed it to continue my work. I lowered my right hand which didn’t stop where it should. The palette tipped over and fell – obviously on the wrong side – the paint was on the ground like the slide of bread with jam of the little Nicolas. New scream of anger. I picked the palette and cleaned the paint on the wooden floor with so many difficulties (the floor was so low!). It took me so long because I had to go to the laundry room to get essence and kitchen towels. And Calypso – always curious – meddled in!
Please Florence, don’t come now! Once I had fixed all the damages, I wanted to paint again but my arm decided to do as it liked. The brush crashed against the canvas, and formed a big green stain dripping to the ground. Desperate, I put down everything and left the room. Before I walked through the doorway, I looked desperately at my piano. “Do you see where I am? My dear friend will we meet again?”
When I was lying on my bed, I started to pray. It was all I had left because I had to confess I was unable to my old artist life I loved so much. I thought about the rehabilitation centers where sick people were taught to find physical, mental or psychological skills, synchronize their moves squizzing a tennis ball in their hands or using only electrical machines like in a gym center or a sports hall. I had been pretentious to believe I could do it on my own. My neurologists were gonna laugh when I will arrive and admit I was unable to do it, my head lowered. They will have fun of me and they will be right. I didn’t own a hundredth of their knowledge.
I jumped as if I was bitten by a wasp. My inside voice yelled I never went back in front of the troubles. “How? You’re giving up? Think about the fox which cult its paws to escape from the poacher! What a good fighter you do! You told you come from princes and you’re acting like a coward! Don’t forget you had been registered as a ward of the state… Certainly for an act of courage or the sacrifice of your parents and you lowered your trousers in front of a brush which refused to obey you! You’re so shabby, not even worthy of God’s trust!”
When Florence arrived, I tried to hide her this feeling of not being good enough for her faith of converted she fed and developed since we met. I needed to admit I was not ready yet to do delicate gestures required for painting and music. However, I had to keep hope and bravely continue to rehabilitate my limbs and my right eye at their first functions, my leg to walk, my arm to carry my fork or a glass to my mouth, shave, empty the dishwasher. This work of reconquest, I could only do it by myself.
Florence stopped in front of the closed door of my room: her instinct urged her to open it and she noticed the traces of painting on the wooden floor and the incongruous stain on the unfinished canvas. She didn’t say a word and sat next to me for a moment. I pretended to be deeply thrown into the music sheet on the bed but she knew.
It was the end the week and I was hardly able to go from the bedroom to the toilets and the bathroom. I was confined to stay in the ground floor as though I was not home but in jail.